“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

September 1, 2013

Well, I got far too busy near the middle of my time abroad to keep up my blog.  However, I did keep up my journal, so I am simply going to copy and paste my journal entries here for those of you that wanted to keep up with the journey!  🙂  Sorry for the delay, and this is likely one post of 3-4 journals that I will try to put up in the coming weeks.  My trip changed drastically toward the end in a really positive way, as my relationship with the girls and my Ates grew deeper.   


ImageLast I wrote, I was headed to Tacloban for the weekend!  I headed out at 6:30am on Friday; my first foray into public trans-portation from town to town.  We took Grand Tours vans, which provide about a 4 hour ride from Calbayog to Tacloban.  I was warned by the Peace Corps volunteers that public transportation was ROUGH, but honestly, I thought it was just fine.  It was crowded, about 12 people to a van, and the roads were winding; the drivers FLY down those winding roads…but it was really fine.  I was comfortable enough to sleep about 50% of the time, so it can’t be that bad!  I think Americans are just spoiled and dramatic, honestly.  😛  Unfortunately, as soon as we arrived a small typhoon hit Samar.  It began raining as soon as we stepped out of the van and honestly did not stop the entire weekend.  ImageSo, there was no fiesta, no parade.  (see Peace Corps folks doing a hop, skip, and a jump to get across the watery street!) I was soooo sad!  We were meeting about 15 other pc volunteers there, and of course their main motivation for going was to reconnect with each other and to party…but my main motivation was the festival!  It was the only chance I had to experience a city festival, so I was bummed.  ImageI had a good time anyway, however, and the peace corps group was lively and fun.  It was cool to see another city, however drowned in water, it was!   ImageAlso unfortunate was the fact that I had caught yet another stomach bug (which of course affected how much fun I could actually have).  This is the 3rd time I have suffered some serious stomach pain.  Very frustrating.  Especially because we were finally in a big city with real food that I was excited to eat!  And the wine…delicious wine that I could barely drink!  Sunday I did not eat all day, not until dinner.  I did not want to have major stomach issues on the van ride.  I’ve always had a bit of a sensitive stomach, but this is getting ridiculous.  (Below: the wet streets of a deserted Tacloban)




I left before the rest of the group on Sunday, because I wanted to get back in time to unpack and grab a shower before meeting…Paula!  Paula is my professor from UH and she was coming to check up on me and the site.  They’ve never sent a student to Calbayog before, so they wanted to make sure that it was a good site to continue to use for the future.  I was sooo excited to see her!  The rest of the group was staying well into the afternoon, which meant that I was going to have to navigate the transportation alone for the first time.  I was a bit nervous.  I wanted to go to Robertson’s to hit the big supermarket so I could grab some things (ok, cheese) that I cannot get in Calbayog.  That meant I had to take a multi-cab and a jeepney to the market, then both back into the city to go to Grand Tours.  Then I had to transfer once in Catbalogan.  Even though transportation in a foreign country is always intimidating, I needn’t have worried.  Filipinos are so kind and helpful that all I needed to do was ask, and immediately people were helping me, telling me which multi-cab to take and yelling at the driver to wait for me.  😛  I made it to Grand Tours and took the trip home.  I arrived 4.5 hours later, tired and dirty.  But when I got back to the center, I found that one of the ladies had accidentally locked me out.  I only had 30 minutes before I was to meet Paula!  I ran to the center to call Ate Vicky, who said it would take her at least 20 minutes to come open it.  I took that time to practice hula with the girls, one more time before their “performance” for Paula.  They were so cute…suuuper excited, decorating her sign and showing me how much they had practiced.  I missed those monkeys over the weekend!  I finally got in, grabbed the fastest shower in the world, then headed over to Ciriaco hotel to see Paula.


It was so wonderful to see her!!!  She was like a little slice of home.  We sat down and had dinner at the Ciriaco restaurant.  It’s so funny, because that restaurant is known around town to have “incredible” food.  All of the ladies at the center told me that I should take Paula there.  We ordered 3 dishes and all of them were mediocre/bad.  But that’s just food for ya in Calbayog!  Definitely not the town for a foodie.  We talked a long while about the center, the girls, the culture, and the town.  It was really great to see her.  After dinner we migrated to the back porch and talked until almost 11pm.  I came home tired, but still needed to shower and unpack.  I got to sleep very late and didn’t realize how exhausted I was from the weekend away.


The next morning I decided to skip my morning run, since my stomach was still bothering me.  I got ready and went to meet Paula for breakfast.  We had yet another mediocre meal (haha) and then headed into Calbayog proper.  We rode to City Hall toImage meet Ma’am Betty Jane (my practicum instructor).  I adore her, and I was excited for her to meet Paula.  Paula and I both asked her what I could be doing better, but she Filipina’d us…demurely stating that I was “perfect.”  I know, I know…when you’re perfect, you’re just perfect!  🙂  I wish she could have been a bit more upfront, but she is not the most direct person.  This also plays into the way that Filipinos relate to Caucasians.  As I’ve mentioned before, they tend to give us so much power, so much (undeserved) authority.  There were so many times when this amazingly smart, experienced woman would look to ME for guidance on certain issues or for advice.  It is a delicate maneuvering; learning how to navigate that automatic power, something I have definitely not learned to do smoothly.  She did mention that she would like me to conduct a little training with her staff regarding domestic violence.  This is the first time she’s mentioned it, and both Paula and I thought it would be a good idea.  I’m very comfortable with the subject, and perhaps I can give an outside perspective that will be useful.


ImageFrom there we moseyed around the town for awhile.  It doesn’t really take long to tour Calbayog on foot.  We stopped in my favorite café for some lunch and mango shakes, and talked some more.  I just adore talking to Paula…she’s not only bright and interesting; she’s incredibly funny and easy to talk to.  We headed to WESADEF so she could meet and talk to Ma’am Emma.  I told her that Ma’am Emma is the most direct, liberal Filipina that I have met, so she could feel free to be a little more…to-the-point with her.  We toured the shelter and the office, then sat down with Ma’am Emma.  It was good to have Paula there, as I could sort of use her visit as a catalyst to learn what else WESADEF really wants from me.   Ma’am Emma mentioned that the social workers are often consumed with repetitive paper work and case files.  I will admit that it isn’t what I had in mind.  Sorting through paperwork and recreating their case file system isn’t exactly my dream of helping in the Philippines.  Plus, I am not a highly methodical, organized person.  But, there is a need, and I am here to fill it.  So fill it I shall.  Or try to fill it, anyhow.


We had to wait a few hours for the girls to return home from school.  We spent most of the time chatting and talking about other ways to help.  Then, the girls started arriving…noisily, as they always do.  I was sooo stoked for Paula to meet them!  We went over and immediately they swarmed us.  “Ate Katie, Ate Paula!!!!”  Paula’s name is pronounced like Pow-lah, and it is adorable.   I want to call her that from now on.  We went inside and I’m sure they asked Paula a million questions.  I Imagehad told them before she came that she was part Filipina, and they were so impressed to learn that she is a professor, and so educated.  After everyone settled down (as much as they possibly could), they donned their “costumes” for the program, which basically involved their grass skirts, flowers in their hair, and some “leis” we made out of construction paper.  They looked so cute I couldn’t stand it. (Here is a pic of Ate Paula, dancing!  I wish I could show you more, but they all show the girls’ faces).   We performed our hula for Pow-lah, and then they sang another song, “Yesterday’s Dream” which always makes me teary-eyed.  It is so sweet and so hopeful.  Ma’am Emma was teasing me that I might not be able to leave, that Joe and I have to move into the center.  She might be right.  😛  The girls performed a few more dances, and dragged Paula and I up to dance with them.  Paula joined right in like a trooper, which they loved.  If you dance with them, you are IN.  I hoped that by experiencing the girls in this setting, Paula would understand a little better how far music can go in assisting me (and the girls) here.  Many of the dances are ones we have made together, and it is such a great bonding tool.  Plus, music therapy is healing and soothing for them.  It lets them get out aggression, or makes them feel confident and giddy.  I think she saw that a little more clearly after meeting the girls.  I hope so, anyway, as it is the thing I have been working hardest for while here.  It was a great night, and so wonderful to share my girls with her.  After we were sweaty and tired, we had a huge dinner – well, huge for the center, anyway.  They had quite a spread for Paula.  I finally looked at my watch and realized that it was nearing 8:30pm, and decided we should wrap things up.  I know it’s hard for the ladies to stay at work that late, when they have families and responsibilities at home.  I was so proud and so touched that they stayed for Paula.  I then shipped Paula off to her hotel, sad to see her go.  


A few days later, I observed the pre-marital counseling session provided by the CWSD (Child Welfare Social Development) office.  My practicum instructor wanted me to observe the class and give her feedback for improvements.  That is SUCH a hard task.  Not only is my understanding and absorption limited because of my poor Waray skills, but it is so hard as a Westerner and outsider to critique how a session like this is conducted.  However, I tried.  It was quite interesting, actually.  


I am still always surprised at the use of religion in public spaces, such as school or government work.  It is just really strange for an American to see.  The session began by the social worker conducting a prayer and then asking the group how they would define marriage.  Unfortunately, I could not completely understand their responses…just snippets and pieces.  They seemed a bit nervous to speak in front of me, despite the fact that I completely and embarrassingly massacred their language when it was my turn to introduce myself.  😛  What I did notice, was that the word “equal” was never used.  An equal partnership would be the first thing I would go to, to personally define the term “marriage.”  And no, it is not solely because I am a feminist.  If a woman chooses to take care of the home and raise the children, that work should be validated as not only equally important to “man’s work” but as difficult, challenging, and tiring work.  From my perspective, equality needs to be worked into these sessions.  I truly and firmly believe that patriarchy is defined by its insistence that women are lesser than.  A society that embraces patriarchy and the idea that men are somehow superior, is one that is indefinitely also rooted in violence against women.  This is the problem in the U.S. and I believe that it is the problem in the Philippines.  I have noticed that it is a general belief across the board in the Philippines…that women are not as important as men; it is a belief held by both men and women alike.  The church tends to aggravate this notion.  I really hate that.  I firmly believe that you can believe in equality AND religion.  And when it comes to issues of rape, abuse, violence, or even an overall conviction that women are less significant, this is a problem that will infiltrate every family and every social system, only continuing to perpetuate the system, in both big and small ways.  I think a firm discussion of equality would be hugely beneficial to these counseling sessions, and even making the link from equality to violence would be helpful.  Making that connection is vital, as it starts to educate people on why domestic violence and sexual violence occurs.  When women are treated as lesser than their male counterparts, it effectively dehumanizes them.  When someone is dehumanized, it is far easier to feel comfortable taking advantage of them, to treat as less than human, as an object.  I believe this is the first step in educating the masses about the inherent importance of women and females.  Phew.  That was a mouthful.  I apologize for droning on, but this issue is so complicated, so convoluted, that I could talk about it for ages. 


I additionally thought that the counseling session was too gendered.  Meaning, I think that the counselor played on “traditional” ideas of femininity and masculinity.  Not all women are overly emotional, or more emotional than men (as suggested).  Women are just allowed and expected to be more emotional.  Men are expected to not show emotion.  When we constantly (and we do in big and small ways, CONSTANTLY) reinforce these gender roles, we trap each gender further in our expectations, not allowing for change or acceptance of traits that are not in line with our gender.  For example, men are often still expected to be very traditionally “masculine.”  They work; they do not cook, do laundry, or help much with the children.  They are stoic, quiet, and slightly aggressive.  These are all “masculine” qualities in the U.S. (and many other countries).  When my husband and I first married, I will admit that he was a rather poor communicator.  He could not accurately identify and convey his emotions.  And even though he was fully aware that I am a feminist and would not be “serving” him in any capacity (doing his laundry, cooking his meals, cleaning his messes), I think somehow he still expected it and somehow I sort of fell into that role, anyway.   It’s just so ingrained in us, isn’t it?  Now, after being married for 10 years, I can see a tremendous change in myself and my husband.  He is more of an effective communicator.  He is loving and affectionate.  He does half of the housework and doesn’t expect me to do more than him.  I, in turn, have learned to let go of that female obligation to take care of everything and I too try to be a more effective communicator.  These are all positive things that improved or came about, I believe, because he (and I) became more educated about gender roles.  I am not claiming that I myself educated him, I think we grew in these ways together and became more educated about these things as we matured and grew as a couple.  Together, we explored and questioned the environments we grew up in.  Together, we navigated a new road that we wanted to take…a road of equality.  My point is, people can change and outlooks can chance.  Education about a different way of perceiving things is key.  Gender roles are not locked and bound by science…they are socially constructed (for the most part) and trap each gender accordingly.  It not only traps and pathologizes women…it traps men as well.  Isn’t it time we move away from the trappings of gender?  


This is, I know, a very Western viewpoint…but one that I feel should be conveyed.  I care about it so much because I believe inequality leads to violence, and I never want any woman to remain in a relationship where she is tortured, miserable, beaten, and left a lifeless shell because of her social, religious, and female obligation to endure such atrocities.  I also think it is wonderful that this counseling service is mandatory before marriage can occur in this country.  I wish that the U.S. had something similar.   I care deeply for women and men, and for human rights issues.  Marriage obviously falls within those boundaries.


Present day excerpt:  It is scary thing to literally post your journal online for the masses (ok, maybe the word “masses” is a bit ambitious for my puny little blog, but still).  It makes me quite vulnerable.  Many might not agree with the above opinions or even be angered by them.  I challenge you to open your mind to thinking about things differently, to move deeper within your understanding of gender, and to question why the notion of equality would actually anger you.  And I also encourage you to talk to me about it, post your thoughts and opposing viewpoints if you have them, but in a kind, constructive way.  That is all.  


Ok, done with that!  I had a really, REALLY hard day yesterday.  I hadn’t showered in days (the water was off), the long meeting in Waray made me tired and frustrated, and I was really missing Joe.  I could not get him on the phone, yet again.  The internet was spotty and not working.  I decided to go for a run to try and lift my spirits.  It was pouring rain, so I fired up the treadmill at the center and got going.  About 10 minutes in, there was a brown out.  The treadmill stopped abruptly and threw me into a chair, banging my shin.  You should have heard the cursing that ensued.  It was pretty funny…well, now it is, anyway.  I was sweaty and gross and the water was finally back on, so I went to shower in the complete pitch black (it was night).  I had to try and make my dinner in the dark, which was difficult with just a headlamp, and I could hear and see shadows scurrying all around me.  I was getting bitten like crazy because I couldn’t see to smack mosquitoes.  I finally just opened a pouch of cold chili and went to my room to eat in the dark, sweating profusely because there were no fans.  My computer wasn’t charged so I sat listening to an audiobook on my ipod, one that I had read 3x before.  I was pissed.  Hahaha!  It makes me laugh now, but I really just had one of those hard days.  The electricity eventually came on at about 11pm, and I got my beloved fans back. 


Most days, I am fulfilled and happy and the best part of my day is when the girls come home from school, chattering and singing and yelling, “Ate Katie!!!” at my window.  But some days I get lonely and sad and even wallow in it a little too much.  And even though by many others’ standards, my living situation would be considered “rough” it certainly is not by Philippine standards.  I am quite lucky to have internet while here (at least most of the time) because it gives me that much-needed connection to friends, family, and my Joe.  It makes me feel less lonely when I get into those dark head spaces.  🙂  


This morning I made myself get up early to get in a proper workout, and a proper breakfast.  I am in a much better place.  It’s so funny how I allow myself to fall into a weird funk sometimes, making things even harder than they have to be.  But that’s what this experience is all about…challenging myself and trying to make a difference, both in the lives of the girls, and in myself.  

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